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The hygienic and paranoid need not apply. But for those who want to wake up in central Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui and build a little character, the Mirador Mansions is a dream come true.

Wanderingshoes | Mirador
(Photo courtesy of Christopher Buchanan)

Here in Tsim Sha Tsui, the western world and China merge. Wrinkled men en route to breakfast congee float beneath bamboo scaffolding, dodging garbage collectors and their pushcarts. On Granville Road, mobile users elbow their way through markets fit for the HK scenester. It’s the centre of it all for the first-time tourist.

I arrive on Nathan Road, my third time in Hong Kong, my third time staying in the vicinity. My throbbing eyes squint deliriously at the street signs. I realize I am the walking definition of “victim” and quickly make a new friend, a panicking wheeler-dealer who can get me a good deal, no problem.

“In the Mansions? Sure,” I say.

He seems shocked by my eagerness, but takes me in.

Though only a few steps away from the bustling city sidewalk, it is no longer the Hong Kong from tourist pamphlets. It’s a Hong Kong built of cumin and coriander, naked mannequins, cloth samples, shouting Indian men, and barefoot laborers squatting on the floor shoveling rice into their open gobs. In relatively quieter halls, the click-clack of mahjong tiles ring alongside Cantonese squeals.

My friend catches me in my reverie.

“Follow,” he says.

I am scared, but have no other ideas. I follow.

He whisks me in and out of an elevator into a dark, musty hallway, then right, left, ducking underneath exposed pipes and flickering fluorescents straight out of gangster movie. Right. Right. Left. Then finally another right, to a sleeping Chinese woman, mouth agape and drooling on a desk, who then slurps up her stream of saliva to demand $40 for a glamorous night in a windowless room with bubbling walls, a bloodied mattress, and a welcome wagon of cockroaches to greet me at the bathtub. She punctuates her spiel with a trembling glob of phlegm.

So when my friend turns his head, I do the first thing that comes to mind: Run. I have no idea about where I’m going–I just want to leave before my body parts become rat food. I don’t know where I am, and I should have taken notes. Right, left, left, then right? The elevators have disappeared. I’m lost.

After a few more turns, I find a staircase tucked into a corner, where my heart sends me catapulting me down the steps, two by two, five flights down to a large door marked “exit”. I am feverish. My doorway to the outside world! Here! In reach!

…or not. I yank. I yank again.

I turn around. My friend is back, walking me into a corner, asking me why I left so quickly.

I am speechless. I close my eyes.

“Don’t worry. I’ll find you cheaper place.”

***

I sink into a bedbug-ridden bed in a $12 doorless dorm room. I take refuge in the click-clack of a hallway mahjong game. Sirens blare outside, and the pillow reeks of mothballs.

I inhale deeply, hoping the fumes will take me to a special place far, far… very far away from here.

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